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The Album

Atlantic SD 19164
Released: February 1978
Chart Peak: #14
Weeks Charted: 41
Certified Platinum: 8/8/78

Frida LyngstadBjorn UlvaeusAgnetha FaltskogBenny AnderssonSince their 1974 Eurovision Song Contest victory with "Waterloo," Abba has laid convincing claim to being the world's largest-selling pop group. Certainly, it's a claim taken seriously outside the United States, but, in this country, the band hasn't done nearly as well. They've topped the single charts only once ("Dancing Queen") and have never broken through at the moneymaking LP level.

Abba's songs have always been a calculated blend of six elements: innocently superficial lyrics, bouncy Europop music, rock energy and amplification, soaring melodies, mamas and Papas high female harmonies and lavish sonic textures. That said, The Album represents an interesting departure from past formulas and will undoubtedly receive a mixed response. There are several songs on it -- mostly on the first side -- that are cast in the traditional mold and that are as fine as anything the group has heretofore recorded. But side two is a real attempt to do something different, and, if not everything on it works, the effort is still laudable.

Those of us who love Abba do so because the band is about as pure an example of smart/dumb pop imaginable. Significant rock is all well and good, but there is always a place for pop music that is fun. Most of Abba's past hits have been unadulterated pop, with lyrics -- written in English by Swedes who've always had a slightly quaint conception of English syntax and pronunciation -- that operate at the most basic level of childish/adolescent fantasy.

But what really counts with Abba is the music, and here the group shows genuine originality. Agnetha Fälstkog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad may not have particularly striking voices, but both are cut and personable performers vocally and visually, and together they generate a sound that should warm the heart of any fan of the Mamas and the Papas or Phil Spector. However, the real talent in Abba is clearly that of the two composer/performers, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, who also play keyboards and guitar, respectively. Also, the work of Stig Anderson, the group's manager and co-lyricist, and Michael B. Tretow, the engineer, cannot be overlooked. Together, these men and women create the characteristic Abba sound, in which those almost invariably irresistible melodies and hooks are enriched with a sensuousness of instrumental and vocal color that may be unmatched for invention and consistency in the history of pop music.

That richness is richer than ever with this new record, and all four songs on side one benefit mightily from it. There is perhaps a slightly greater effort made with the lyrics than in the past, but essentially these are songs worthy of instant inclusion on any forthcoming greatest-hits LP. (For Abba neophytes, by far the best introduction to this quintessential singles band is Greatest Hits, even if most of the hits weren't hits in America. Anyone who could listen to this record five times and not wind up humming half the songs is an android.)

Side two begins with a prothetically titled song called "Move On," which blends a superb chorus with a text that poses the need for innovation and change like some pop Heraclitus. "Move On" is followed by The Album's one overt failure, a stiff attempt at rock & roll called "Hole in Your Soul." Abba may have toughened its Europop with rock energy in the past, but real, blues-based rock music is far from the group's sensibility, and this sound both clinical and awkward.

But the last three songs -- three scenes from a "minimusical," The Girl with the Golden Hair -- are far more provocative. The lyrics trace the saga of the heroine (presumably Fälstkog, though both women have appeared onstage in blond wigs) from introspection on what a nebbish she really is, to gratitude for the music that has justified her life, to reflection on what things might have been like without fame, to a renewal of ambition and an almost demonic bitterness about how her career has turned her into a mere puppet. The words make clever use of some of the idioms and phraseology of old-time Broadway musicals, and -- especially in the finale, "I'm a Marionette" -- seem surprisingly self-revelatory, given Abba's past impersonality. The music, too, stretches out to include elements of cabaret and musicals, and, in "I'm a Marionette," attains a dark frenzy that deepens Abba's image without distorting it.

Abba has taken a real chance with this LP. The group had a formula which, if it hadn't yet quite caught hold in America, still sold millions of records worldwide. Now, by hinting at things beneath the bright surface of that formula, the band has opened itself up to criticism for not having been profound all along. But, with The Album, Abba makes it all work, and one hopes that record buyers in this country will respond to the quality and originality of the music presented here.

- John Rockwell, Rolling Stone, 3/23/78.

Bonus Reviews!

Abba is not only Sweden's biggest export industry (according to John Rockwell of the New York Times), it is the biggest thing in international rock groups in the world today. The quartet's four-year streak of hit singles, beginning with "Waterloo," is unparalleled success story, and their mastery of English-speaking pop is undisputed. They seem to be able to isolate and synthesize every element of disparate Brit-Yankee pop hits of the last twenty years -- a vocal trill here, a modulation there -- always at the right moment. They don't sound particularly original, but boy, have they done their homework!

The release of The Album is the first half of a campaign to reinforce the group's popularity throughout the world. Abba - The Movie, a concert-tour-with-plot spectacular, is to be released here some time this summer. As do most Abba albums, this one contains a few songs whose brilliant writing, performance, and production make them real standouts: "The Name of the Game," with a trumpet fill reminiscent of that on the Beatles' "Penny Lane"; "One Man, One Woman," a mood rewrite of "My Love, My Life" from an earlier album, Arrival; and "Take a Chance on Me," a variation on the plot of "When I Kissed the Teacher," also from Arrival. Throughout, Abba combines sophistication with cornpone, and, since they depend for inspiration on pop hits in England and the United States between 1950 and 1970, hearing The Album is like entering a time warp. Here are delightful echoes of everyone from the Beatles to Dusty Springfield, Phil Spector, Dionne Warwick, Petula Clark, the Shirelles, and on and on. True, Abba's work is based on some kind of mirror trick, and there is little genuine feeling in anything they do. But it's also true that it is a wonderful mirror trick, and I can't help but admire these charming conjurors.

- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 6/78.

The Album has a whole bunch of esoteric moves on it, including the fact that this is essentially a concept album, to accompany Abba - The Movie, (a film which "will-be-released" in the States shortly). I ask you, what do mini-musicals and rock opera have to do with songs like "Ring, Ring" or "Honey, Honey"...I feared the worst, that like other groups who got hung up on making the Art Move, it might be all over. Then I remembered writing about Satanic Majesties, that no matter what, the Stones always make it! I believe now, that the same can be said for Abba.

So then, this album is great! Opening with the very bizarre "The Eagle," which seems right out of Pink Floyd, and maybe there's a connection: both were called bubblegum groups in their day. This is the only song on which Janne Schaffer plays (he formerly handled most of the lead guitar chores) and he, along with Benny on synthesizer, conjure great sounds. Moreover, the words are so weird, it pretty much presages that this won't be your typical ABBA album concerned with sex, love and teenage romance. It is somewhat Jonathan Livingston Seagull, but somehow manages to transcend that banality.

"Take a Chance on Me" is the real thing, the essential ABBA that we've come to know and love. Rock and roll is about fantasy, and what greater fantasy can there by than having two really gorgeous Scandinavian broads singing "Take a chance on me," (male chauvinist pig fantasy #106).

A major departure on this album is three related songs as part of a mini-musical; "The Girl with Golden Hair," a number which the group performs both live and in the movie -- It lasts for about half an hour, during which the girls wear wigs of golden hair and interchange the lead creating massive confusion, much like Dylan's new movie, Renaldo and Clara. Anyway, the first song in this triad is "Thank You for the Music," a number which successfully updates the German cabaret style and tradition.

"I Wonder (Departure)" -- B-side of the current ABBA single is strongly rooted in the Broadway musical tradition, complete with very lush string arrangements, but the song itself has a vitality of its own, and anyway it's much better than "Send in the Clowns" and light-years ahead of that current sentimental pablum, "You Light Up My Life." It's quite esoteric, yet, if you can get beyond the obvious prejudices, it's quite beautiful as well.

Concluding with "I'm a Marionette" which is just simply great, that's all! The song is perfect and the vocal is appropriately punchy and ballsy, yet Anni-Frid and Agnetha's singing is totally obliterated by the power of the jam, which is ultimate. Mucho congrats to lead guitarist Lasse Wellander, as well as the other musicians here. If ABBA were played on FM, this would be an instant FM classic and it might just be the cut to cross them over.

The Album is right up there with all the great ABBA albums; it's got more substance so perhaps they will crossover and finally capture the totality of the American market this time. It seems evident that ABBA, one of the top five groups of all time internationally, now should finally tour America in 1978 and prove their renown here to all those people who listen to music with cauliflower ears.

- Bobby Abrams, Phonograph Record, 3/78.

Once again, ABBA has created an LP of intricate arrangements filled with vocal and instrumental surprises. Infectious rhythms pervade all 10 cuts, particularly "Name Of The Game" and "Hole In Your Soul." The group's catchy, thoughtful lyrics are never lost beneath the heavy keyboard/synthesizer support, backed with strings, guitar and bass. Best cuts: "Eagle," "Take A Chance On Me."

- Billboard, 1978.

ABBA's fifth new studio album continued its phenomenal international success, featuring the U.K. #1s "The Name Of The Game" and "Take A Chance On Me," and achieving ABBA's highest ever showing in the U.S. LP charts: it reached the Top 20 and sold a million copies in six months. It was also musically ambitious, featuring "The Girl With The Golden Hair," described as "3 scenes from a mini-musical," which anticipated the theatrical ambitions Andersson and Ulvaeus would fulfill with Chess six years later. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

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